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18 August 2014 @ 10:30 pm
Saw this on the weekend with Sally:

It was wonderful, best movie I've seen in a long time. I didn't really know anything about going in, hadn't even seen the trailer, but I'd read it was by the producer of The Full Monty so was expecting something a bit light-hearted. Well, it definitely wasn't that...

I read a review that described it as 'life-affirming' and 'a tonic to the soul' and I didn't find it any of those, either. It's bloody sad, in fact. It could have been a melancholic but bittersweet film with a passably happy ending, but for a dick move on the part of the director, who spurned that approach and went with making it as sad as possible.

In fact that was the only fault I could find with it - otherwise it was pretty much perfect. I know it's standard in the film industry to shoot a couple of endings and use test audiences to decide which to go with, but I can't imagine that happened here, because there's not an audience in the world who would have gone with the ending he chose.

Anyway, it's beautiful, poetic, and very very moving. See it. You won't be disappointed. Maudlin and teary, perhaps, but not disappointed.
Current Mood: moved
12 July 2014 @ 11:38 pm
The main reason I've been feeling emo (wow, that word is so 2006) all day is because I finished The Railway Man this morning. It's such a beautiful book. It didn't leave me quite as affected as The Recollection of Rifleman Bowlby, which was poetically bittersweet, but it still had me in tears by the end, to the extent I had to blow my nose several times.

It's just so much better than the movie, which I didn't like at all when I saw it six months ago or so. Eric Lomax's writing style isn't as poetic as Alex Bowlby's, and it places it is actually quite dry - it's much more a conventionally autobiographical. But he writes in this concise reflective style - musings on life in a way that had me thinking "wow - what an amazing use of words."

But the pathos is all there - the emotion of meeting the Japanese interpreter in 1995. There is none of that in the movie - in fact they have him roughing up the interpreter when they meet, which is nowhere even close to what really happened. The book was, actually, what I was expecting - hoping - the movie to be.

But both Rifleman Bowlby and the Railway Man are such intense descriptions of severe PTSD and the effects it has on people even at the very end of their lives. I'm not going to forget either of them to the very end of mine, I'm sure.

He died in October 2012, right about the time Sally and I were moving in together. That thought was curiously difficult for me to accept.
12 July 2014 @ 11:06 pm
Feeling in a bit of a rut lately. Not really sure how to break out of it.

I find myself not doing much in the evening or weekends, but at the same time having no real desire or motivation to do anything.

I had plans to do a bunch of stuff, including starting a Masters, taking Spanish lessons (for a return to Aconcagua) and joining the Army again, but I find myself not doing anything about any of them. The Masters and rejoining the Army both had minor excuses, but neither of those were insurmountable - I've just used them to justify doing nothing about it.

For the Masters, Josh, my mate who was going to do the Masters with me, didn't get accepted, and I'm not convinced my current level of motivation is sufficient to make a decent attempt at such a difficult subject. Especially while working full time. And for the Army, my fingers are still swollen (from my rheumatoid arthritis scare), which has put me off doing anything much physical.

I'm not even really drinking any more. Which is by no means a bad thing - it's just that when I can't even be arsed to go to the pub, you know things are getting bad!
Current Mood: listlesslistless
09 July 2014 @ 09:59 pm
Sally and I went whale watching the other day, on the Sunshine Coast. It was a beautiful day, but the sea state forecast was ominous for the morning, and when we got there the guy gave a speech saying it was going to be choppy, people would probably get seasick, and if anybody wanted to go on the afternoon trip instead, they could.

That probably should have been warning, but nobody I saw pulled out. Sally and I had to get back home and wanted to miss the afternoon traffic back to Brisbane, so we decided it was now or never.

And just... wow. He wasn't kidding, it was really rolling, and four hours on that swell had practically the entire boat sick. There were about 70 people on board, and it's school holidays so there were a lot of kids, and people were just spewing all over the shop. Sally and I were both feeling pretty bad, but we were smart enough to stay outside looking at the horizon, so we didn't need the sick bags. The sickest people were the ones sitting inside, so they were looking at the inside of the boat, which is of course the worst thing you can do for seasickness.

Anyway, the chop made it tricky to spot any whales, but eventually we found one, and the guy was running a commentary over the loudspeaker, and those inside just did not give a shit about any damn whale. They'd paid $119 each, the whale was right there, and not a muscle did they move to come out and see it! Poor buggers.

So that was a bit of an adventure on the High Seas for Sally and Simon. The whale didn't do too much - no breaching or tail-slapping, I suspect he wasn't too keen on the conditions either. Sally and I were both sick the rest of the day, and still a bit queasy the next day too. Sea sickness is no joke!
03 July 2014 @ 10:10 pm
One of the things I dislike about LJ these days is that it only shows the last two weeks' worth of entries on your friends page now. Previously you could go back forever if you wanted. I know LJ was dying anyway in the modern Facebook/Twitter world, but a lot of the changes they've made seem to have accelerated the decline IMO. They've made it deserted AND shit, instead of merely deserted.

Oh well. Such is life - life moves on. Anyway, at least I have an excuse for not seeing anybody's updates anymore I guess.

I've finally got around to replacing my laptop that was stolen a year ago. I'm not sure why it took so long, I guess I was just so busy with work, Aconcagua, etc. Plus I hate Windows 8 so I was hoping Windows 9 would come out before I bought a new computer. It hasn't, but I managed to buy a laptop with Windows 7 on it, which I imagine I will run into the ground (at least until it gets stolen again). It's also pretty hard to buy laptops these days with DVD drives. Since most of the games I play are old ones that require the CD this was an embuggerance as well, so with my DVD drive, Windows 7 laptop I'm going full retro like it's 2011. Old school!

Anyway, once I actually have my laptop and I'm not fighting Sally for use of hers, I might actually update LJ a bit more often. I lost of a lot of memories when my last one was stolen (not on the laptop itself but the old hard drive that was stolen from a cupboard)so I really need to start documenting my life again.

At least they caught one of the pricks who robbed our place, and he's presumably in jail as I type this - though not for long enough, I imagine he only got a couple of years. If it was up to me, I'd have given him at least five years and then broken his fucking legs for good measure.
Current Music: The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
24 May 2014 @ 08:31 pm
Hola, LJ! This new LJ structure is a classic example, IMO, of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Pointless update from what I can see. Can anybody see a noticeable improvement, or did they just shuffle stuff around?

Anyway. New developments in life - not a great deal. Heading to Perth tomorrow for a week-long course in Reservoir Engineering, from which I will decide whether I want to pursue a Masters in it. If you'd told me (pretty much any time in my life previously) I'd be considering a Masters in engineering of any kind, I'd have laughed, but Such Is Life. It never works out to plan, does it?

I had a nasty scare recently where my middle finger on my right hand swelled up basically overnight, for no discernible reason, and the ring finger of my left to a lesser degree. I was worried it was rheumatoid arthritis, because the symptoms were all there and there was no other easy explanation. I went to the doctor after two weeks of waking up to extremely swollen and painful fingers, but he said he didn't think it was, and that even though he couldn't tell me what it actually might be, he thought it would be transient and fade after a few weeks. He sent me off for all the tests for RA, lupus and other auto-immune nasties, but thankfully they all came back negative.

Which doesn't clear me completely, because in the early stages RA can present like this and return negative tests, but the chance is much lower now. Plus I've been taking 6 to 8 ibuprofen a day and it's reduced the swelling a hell of a lot, so maybe the doctor was right after all. I'm currently too scared to stop taking ibuprofen so I don't know whether it'll start swelling again when I stop.

I was talking to a co-worker at work when the doctor rang to say the blood tests were clear, and I told the co-worker what had happened. She said "Have you ever had malaria?" I said yes, I have, and she said several her friends have had joint swelling years after having malaria. I googled it, but nothing came up, although it auto-filled when I searched with "post malaria joint pain" which I guess means a bunch of other people have searched for the same thing. So I suspect it's one of those things that just hasn't been studied enough for medical science to recognise, but I'm putting it down to malaria. Which is much, much better than RA.

Other than that, nothing much happening. Somebody started a sort of 'Facebook fan page' for the MUD I used to play from 1998 to about 2003. It's been a massive trip down memory lane and made me rather nostalgic. Back in the days when the Internet was only for nerds, and done through dial-up modem. Those days are gone now, the net is the realm of the Everyman and has gone mainstream and lame. We old-school net-nerds are much worse off for it.
Sally is away out in the field, deal with some environmental crisis in our company which, truth be told, is rather more serious than has been given credit, and has somehow slipped under the radar as far as the bleeding hearts are concerned. Oh well, all good.

But she's been away for a full week now, which is longer than ever before, and I'm starting to realise how she must have felt when I was away in Argentina for three weeks. Lonely, lelebet! It's okay, though. I bought a bottle of Argentine Malbec (which is now my red wine of choice, perhaps unsurprisingly) and drank the whole bottle, along with a few beers. Because liquor in a mug can warm you like a hug, I guess.

Well, it's got me posting on LJ, so it can't be all bad.
Current Music: Rise Against - Six Ways 'Til Sunday
18 March 2014 @ 11:08 pm
So I'm back from Aconcagua. What a trip. We didn't get to the summit due to the weather. It was, apparently, the worst weather for 26 years. The snow up high was chest deep, which on top of being a serious avalanche risk, would have made it impossible to get to the summit, especially since the winds were forecast to be 80-100km/hr. It's a 14 hour day to get to the summit even under good conditions, so getting stuck up high in -20C and that sort of wind (any sort of wind, for that matter) would have been literally suicide.

So we got to 5600m, 300m below the high camp, stayed the night, and then came down. It was pretty insane. The training I did prepared me pretty well, but nothing can really prepare you for the lack of air up there - it was 55% of the air pressure at sea level. Even taking your boots on or off in the tent is such an ordeal that you have to stop for a rest after the first one. Heading downhill is actually not too bad, but even the slightest uphill slope is a real struggle. You just have to try and get into a rhythm of steps and breaths, and if for whatever reason you get out of rhythm, you're gasping for air.

The big difference between being on my mountain and my training was that my training involved 30kg of dumbells in my pack, which meant that the feeling of aerobic exhaustion was similar, but on the mountain was actually easier in a way, because my legs weren't feeling like they were about to collapse - I was only carrying about 15kg there. So my legs were more than capable, it was just the lungs.

I got altitude sickness at base camp at 4400m, and was sick for 24 hours or so - splitting headache and nausea, feeling pretty much like a terrible hangover. I started taking Diamox, which helped a lot, but apparently does reduce aerobic capacity, so maybe that meant I had a harder time physically up the hill.

The other younger guy on the trip was 29 and he also got hit by altitude sickness, even worse than I did. He was actually puking at base camp and lost his appetite for three days (though strangely enough no headache). The other three clients were all in their 50s and none of them got altitude sickness, which apparently is not uncommon - the younger and fitter you are, the more likely you are to get it.

Anyway, up the hill at Camp 1 and 2, I still had a headache but generally felt okay, despite the fact we brought forward the acclimatisation schedule (ie climbed higher, faster) to try and catch a weather window (which turned out not to be a weather window at all - high winds and heavy snow).

So we came down again. It took us a week to get up to Camp 2, but only two days to get back down. The last day was a 30km walk out from base camp back to the road, and we practically flew. Did it 6 hours.

Then we caught our minibus back to Mendoza and hung out for a few days. Mendoza is a pretty cool place - there are bars on all the windows and high walls topped with razor wire everywhere, but it almost feels like all that stuff is a relic, because it felt really safe. There was a wine festival on while we were there, and everybody was out in the streets having a good time, but none of what you'd see in Australia (or the UK, or US etc) with dickheads drunk and punching on. It's definitely a fairly poor city, but not third world or anything. Everything was super cheap because the Argentine Peso is in bad shape. We were eating at one of the most expensive restaurants in town and it was absolutely top quality (lots of beautiful steak and Malbec) and was costing us about $20 a head each, including a couple of bottles of wine between us.

But we were back a week early due to the weather (and accelerated schedule) so I decided to come home early. Got my flight changed and got back four days early. Poor Sally had had to move house for us both while I was away and had a torrid time of it, including getting ripped off by the movers and having the cleaners not even show up. So she was super stressed and a bit miserable by the time I got home. We're moved in now, and things are slowly returning to normal. She's super busy and stressed at work at the moment due to an asbestos scare (she is in the environmental team) so that's been a trying time as well.

I haven't decided whether I'll give Aconcagua another go. On one hand, I'm more confident that I'll be able to get to the summit given decent weather, and I had a good time, and loved Mendoza. But on the other hand, it's bloody expensive, and I now know how hard and painful it's going to be, particularly with my altitude sickness, which is a pretty strong disincentive - having the worst hangover of my life every day without even getting to drink the alcohol first!
Current Music: The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
08 February 2014 @ 11:04 pm
I think I'm fully geared up for Aconcagua now. Bought the last couple of things today.

Last week I was climbing in New Zealand, which was pretty full on. I did a course with K, the girl I met on my last course at Mt Cook last year. This one was around Mt Aspiring and it was a real eye-opener. I realise now how controlled were the conditions on my last, introductory course.

Our guide was Basque (someone made the mistake at one stage of referring to him as Spanish, which didn't go down too well) and he was incredibly experienced, and a really nice guy in the hut. But he was pretty impatient with us noobs while we were out in the snow, which got K pretty worked up. I didn't personally really care, our skills weren't up to scratch so we deserved a bollocking at times, especially for something as serious as mountaineering. But K, little Gen Y that she is, has I guess never had anybody seriously haranguing her, so she wrote a fairly strongly worded e-mail to the company complaining about him never saying anything encouraging to us.

Which I found a bit embarrassing, having spent 7 years in the Army. Our guide was still much more of a softie that just about any Corporal I've ever encountered.

Anyway. Mountaineering was crazy, steep and dangerous. I'm glad I did it but, just... wow. On the last day as we were walking out (30km march out and 2000m down!) I had a fall, when I took a step, put my foot down and the snow collapsed and I just kept going, sliding down the slope. So I did a self-arrest with my ice axe, which was, ironically, the only time our guide actually said anything positive to either of us. Apparently my self-arrest was well done and I had a very good reaction time. Which was true I guess, I just went into it instinctively. I wasn't scared, I was too busy doing the self-arrest drill, and the snow was so soft that I stopped within about half a metre. So I picked myself up, front-pointed back up to the others and kept going. Kind of glad I had my first fall.

K is a lovely girl and I enjoyed her company, but she wasn't such a good climbing partner for me in some ways. She had a tendency to panic when something went wrong, and had at least one screaming event each day of the course - sometimes more than one per day. Now, I don't hold that against her - there aren't a lot of 23 year old girls who'd have been there with me, so I'm pretty impressed by her toughness. But having a climbing partner given to such overt displays of fear wasn't ideal for me. Fear is contagious - I managed to keep my shit together, until she'd start screaming or whimpering, and then it was difficult for me. At one stage she fell into a crevasse and really freaked out. It was on a reasonably steep slope (steep enough to require careful foot placement), whiteout conditions, wind howling, I couldn't hear the guide on the other end of the rope and could barely even see him, and K is screaming at me waist-deep in a crevasse.

It was kind of ironic that she went into the crevasse in the first place. The guide always put me first (not sure whether that was because I wasn't freaking out or whether he just wanted the heavier partner on the end of the rope), and I'm a good 20kg heavier than K, so it was always me 'exploring' to see whether the snow bridges over the cressaves would hold our weight in the softening afternoon snow. I went one leg in several times, but never in completely, and I guess that time she just stepped in the wrong spot and went through. After I'd put a leg through I'd stop and turn around to the guide, but he'd just tell me to keep going, so I'd have to walk across, expecting at any moment to go through and be dangling. Somehow I didn't, but there's something disconcerting about just having to suck it up and find out whether it's going to hold your weight by just walking on it.

All in all, a pretty stressful week. Big learning curve and a biiiig step up. But I'm glad I did it, it was absolutely insane. Then on the last day in NZ, K and I went white water rafting on a boogie board, which was positively chilled out by comparison. Aconcagua will be much easier than that course in the technical sense - though it'll be much harder in terms of physical effort required.

And after that, damn it, my next holiday is going to be to the Barrier Reef or something. No more goddamn snow!
11 January 2014 @ 06:50 pm
I've very nearly finished buying all my gear for New Zealand (for which I leave in two weeks) and Aconcagua (for which I leave in six weeks). It's cost over $4000 already just in gear, which is obscene but not entirely unexpected. I have really shopped around and got the best prices on everything, including buying a lot of if from overseas. If I'd bought it in Australia it would have cost even more. Example, my boots - $800 in Australia but got them for about $600 including delivery from the US.

I won't post every item I bought but here are a few of the big-ticket items that together cost me over $1600. All of them came from overseas so I had to take a punt that they'd fit.

Sleeping bag: Feathered Friends Snowbunting

These things are about the top of the range, rated to 0 degrees F which is -18 C. 850 fill down which is about as good as it gets and very lightweight. One review I read described a night in one of these as "like being wrapped in a furnace for eight hours." It has a stuff sack to pack it down to about 14" long by 10" wide, but for storage it has a bag like a rather large pillow case, and it packs into that to a size bigger than my entire pack - it's about 2.5 feet long. Puffy!

Boots: La Sportiva Baruntse

Double boots good for 6 to 7000m. Basically any higher than this and you have to go to full Everest-style triple boots. They have foam mouldable liners than you put in the oven and heat up, then stick your feet in them so they form to your feet. I haven't tried that yet but it should make them fit almost perfectly. They are massively heavy and feel like moon boots, and they are rigid for crampons so they are quite difficult to walk in, particularly for a trekking peak like Aconcagua. But oh well - can't have everything. They are still a tiny bit of flex and should be more comfortable than the old plastic double boots. Here's hoping.

Parka: Rab Neutrino Plus

Getting a high altitude down parka has caused me the most angst out of all my purchases and I only just ordered it about a week ago, from the UK so I haven't got it yet. The problem is there is SO much information out there and much of it is contradictory. Most of the big, expedition-style companies who guide on Aconcagua say you need a heavy 8000m style parka, fully baffled (instead of sewn-through) and 800 or 850 fill down, with a hood, weighing in at well over 1000g - some as much as 1400 to 1600g. But they also want 90 litre packs and 120 litre duffle bags, whereas my guide, who is from the lightweight alpine-style climbing school of things, lists a 60 litre pack. Add to this the fact that many other sources I looked up say you don't even need a fully baffled heavy parka, and some lightweight climber types don't take a parka at all (which strikes me as particularly foolish - you might not need it on a normal day but surely you want it in case of the unexpected - storm/accident/whatever).

So eventually I compromised, and got this one, which is 785g and has 275g of 800 fill down. Most of the heavier ones have around 400g. But it has excellent reviews and by all accounts is particularly warm for its weight, so it should be okay. It's fully baffled and long in the core so I think it will probably be overkill 90% of the time for Aconcagua - but in case that 10% happens, this should suffice.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful